A Soft Bed of Stones by Sharon Whitehill

Water's rigid as pavement

when struck by a hurtling object.

A storm-driven feather

punctures the trunk of an oak,

and flexible saplings split

in an assault made of wind.

Paper, smooth to the unwary touch,

slices through calloused skin.

Gentle rain eats away at cement.

Sponge-soft fungi penetrate rock,

digest radioactive leftovers.

Even the hardest of diamonds is porous

in its molecular spaces.

In the dynamics of human behavior

mild emotions conquer fierce logic

as weakness manipulates strength.

Belief shows itself more unyielding

than the data-based facts of hard science.

Should it be a surprise that St. Stephen,

his eyes lit with fire,

welcomed his soft bed of stones?


Sharon Whitehill writes: I'm a retired English professor from West Michigan now living in Port Charlotte, Florida. In addition to poems published in various literary magazines, my publications include two scholarly biographies, two memoirs, two poetry chapbooks, and a full collection of poems.

Author's note

Though I'm a lifelong (Unitarian Universalist) atheist, I've done a great deal of study on the early Christian church. St. Stephen in particular stands out from my teenaged reading of Lloyd C. Douglas's The Robe, which effected a brief conversion in me. I was so moved by its description of the stoning of Stephen, how he reacted almost with joy at his own death, that I never forgot it. And as I was looking for examples of deceptively hard things that are soft and vice versa, that scene jumped right back into my mind.